Ivanka Trump brushed aside groans and hisses Tuesday over her father’s track record and defended his attitudes toward women as she made her first international outing as a White House adviser.
Trump pledged to push for “incremental, positive change” for women in the US economy and told a Berlin conference on women that she’s still “rather unfamiliar” with her role as first daughter and adviser to President Donald Trump.
The scattered groans and hisses came as she described her father as “a tremendous champion of supporting families.”
Trump’s one-day visit, at the invitation of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, gave Merkel and other officials face-to-face access with the president’s influential daughter at a time when world leaders are still trying to discern where his policies will lead.
Merkel and Trump were part of a high-powered panel discussion Tuesday at the W20 Summit, a women-focused effort within the Group of 20 countries, entitled “Inspiring women: Scaling up women’s entrepreneurship.” They were joined by Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde and the Netherlands’ Queen Maxima, among others.
The 35-year-old Trump, who stepped away from both running her fashion brand and from an executive role at the Trump Organization to become an unpaid White House adviser, said she is still finding her feet in her new role.
“I’m listening, I’m learning, I’m defining the ways in which I think that I’ll be able to have impact” in empowering women in the US economy and beyond, she said.
She says she plans “to bring the advice, to bring the knowledge, back to the United States, back to both my father and the president — and hopefully that will bring about incremental, positive change. And that is my goal.”
Trump has been a vocal advocate for policies benefiting working women and vocational training. During Merkel’s visit to Washington in March, she organized a discussion with the German leader, her father, and American and German executives about how companies can better train workers.
However, Trump has faced a backlash in the United States, particularly from liberals who think she has done little to temper her father’s conservative agenda. Since the president took office in January, liberal groups have questioned the impact of his policy moves on families.
On Tuesday, Berlin moderator Miriam Meckel brought Trump into the discussion with a pointed question about her White House role.
“As a part of the audience, especially the German audience, is not that familiar with the concept of the ‘first daughter’ I’d like to ask you: what is your role and who are you representing — your father as the president of the United States, the American people or your business?” she asked.
The question drew a quick response from Trump.
“Certainly not the latter. And I am rather unfamiliar with this role as well, as it is quite new to me,” Trump responded. She added that “it has been a little under 100 days but it has just been a remarkable, incredible journey.”
Meckel intervened again after Trump described the president as “a tremendous champion of supporting families and enabling them to thrive,” noting some reactions from the audience.
“Some attitudes toward women your father has publicly displayed in former times might leave one questioning whether he’s such an empowerer for women,” said the moderator, who is the editor of a German business magazine and also a professor of corporate communications at St. Gallen University in Switzerland.
“I’ve certainly heard the criticism from the media, and that’s been perpetuated,” Trump replied.
But Trump added that her own personal experience and the fact that “thousands” of women have worked with and for Donald Trump for decades in the private sector “are a testament to his belief and solid conviction in the potential of women and their ability to do the job as well as any man.”
“He encouraged me and enabled me to thrive,” Trump said. “I grew up in a house where there was no barrier to what I could accomplish beyond my own perseverance and my own tenacity.”
There was, she stressed, “no difference between me and my brothers. And I think as a business leader you saw that, and as a president you will absolutely see that.”
Before the event, President Trump tweeted Tuesday that he is “proud of @IvankaTrump for her leadership on these important issues.”
Trump, who promoted child care and family leave policies during her father’s campaign, told reporters Tuesday that child care “is going to be part of comprehensive tax reform.”
The president is set to roll out tax reform priorities Wednesday, but his daughter didn’t specify whether it would be part of that announcement.
She also said more needs to be done to help female entrepreneurs secure funding in the US — “we are not where we need to be.”
Later Tuesday, Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser gave Trump a tour of a training center in Berlin run by the German industrial conglomerate. Germany is proud of its vocational training system. Siemens says it has some 12,000 young people worldwide, including 9,000 in Germany, in programs that combine study with practical training.
Before heading to a formal dinner, Trump visited the German capital’s memorial to the 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis. Trump converted to Judaism herself ahead of her 2009 marriage to Jared Kushner.
Trump walked slowly through the field of undulating ground filled with concrete slabs, along with US Embassy personnel. She was also flanked by a strong police guard to keep curious tourists and others at a distance.
She paused occasionally to look at the slabs, meant to symbolize the chaos of the Holocaust, and donned sunglasses before emerging on the other side of the monument to a crush of cameras and onlookers.
Last week, Saudi-Arabia — a country where women can be arrested for not wearing a hijab, only recently gained the right to vote, and remain permanent legal minors — was appointed to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, the self-described “principal global intergovernmental body … exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women.”
According to Fortune, Saudi Arabia was approved for the 2018–2022 term in a secret ballot. It received 47 votes, fewer than any other country on the ballot, but enough to pass the threshold to join the commission. And human-rights leaders are outraged.
“Electing Saudi Arabia to protect women’s rights is like making an arsonist into the town fire chief,” said Hillel Neuer, the executive director of UN Watch, a nonprofit watchdog. He said in a separate interview that the vote “definitely has the power of sending a message” to Saudi women by “putting their oppressor in a position of power and influence when it comes to women’s rights.”
Rothna Begum, a women’s-rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, called the decision “shocking;” Medea Benjamin, co-founder of global women’s rights organization Code Pink, called it “disheartening and so revolting;” and one Saudi woman told Newsweek she felt “betrayed and kind of invisible.” “There’s no way they could know what women in Saudi Arabia go through every day,” she said of those responsible for voting the country in.
The UN sent out a press release on Wednesday mentioning that Saudi Arabia had been added to the commission, but besides that, it has yet to comment. Meanwhile Helen Clark, the former administrator of the UN Development Programme, appeared to support the appointment when she tweeted, “It’s important to support those in the country who are working for change for women. Things are changing, but slowly.”